• All puffed up

    Challenge two really start yesterday.  My first bake was Portuguese custard tarts (natas).  Although these were essentially my second challenge, I felt that I couldn’t count them as such as I didn’t make them in there entirety.  In other words, I used shop bought puff pastry but made the custard filling.  When I was at Ashburton Cookery School, the Chef Tutor mentioned that most chefs don’t make puff pastry from scratch as it is such a prolonged process, so I thought I too would rely on shop bought puff pastry.

    I should possibly mention that I chose to bake Portuguese custard tarts as my brother-in-law asked for them specifically as a Birthday gift, and I couldn’t turn down his request for a home bake.

    I knew that last time I made Portuguese custard tarts that I used a Tesco recipe, but when I searched for the recipe again, I came up with two versions.  One a regular recipe and the other a step by step guide to making Portuguese custard tarts.  I chose the later.  This recipe involved infusing whole milk with lemon zest and cinnamon and then combining it with flour and egg yolks to which a sugar syrup was added.  The mixture was then cooked out to make a thickened custard, which was spooned into the puff pastry cases (made from rolled up puff pastry cut into twelve pieces and pressed into the individual holes of a muffin tin).  Despite thickening, my custard was a little on the thin side when I ‘spooned’ it into the puff pastry cases.  Although I think I cooked out the custard properly, I think I could have let it cool for longer before I ‘spooned’ it into the puff pastry cases.

    Although the end result was some decent enough looking and tasting Portuguese custard tarts, I was not as happy with them as I was with my first attempt at them a few months ago.  In retrospect, I think I chose the wrong recipe of the two.   Although I was not entirely happy with the end result, I was already late in giving my brother-in-law his gift, so last night, after Crossfit, I took his gift of Portuguese custards tarts around to him.  After a delicious dinner of pizza from Sourdough Revolution in Lechlade, my brother-in-law and sister tucked into a Portuguese custard tarts.  From what I could gather from their response, they seemed to enjoy them.  So although I was not entirely happy with them (they did not have the required sheen and blackened top), they were not an unmitigated disaster.

    Despite not being a disaster,  I felt that I had cheated on the bake so I didn’t think it was fair to count them as my second challenge.  To redeem myself, I decided to make croissant pastry today as a substitute for the puff pastry I didn’t make yesterday.  As you will know, making croissant dough is quite a drawn out process so you really need to have time to make it.  After a morning of shopping (mainly food), I only started making the dough around 2pm.

    I decided not to use the recipe that we were taught at Ashburton Cookery School as I wanted to try something different.  All seemed to be going well with the dough making process until it came to rolling it out to cut and shape the croissants.  I noticed that the quantity of dough was quite a bit less than I was used to and the resultant croissants were very much on the small side.  Hoping that by some miracle the croissants would do some serious growing during the prove, I enjoyed my Saturday evening in front of the television with a glass of good wine and a delicious omelette with a filling of harissa vegetables.  Although the croissants did enlarge somewhat during the prove, they certainly did not resemble the fine specimens from cookery school.   Even the bake did not remedy the situation, albeit that the end result had two positive attributes: flakiness and lamination.  Despite the positive attributes, my croissants looked more like rugelach than croissants.

    I am not for one moment saying that the recipe I chose was wrong (I must have executed the recipe incorrectly), but when comparing it to the one which I used at Ashburton Cookery School, I noticed a number of significant differences between the recipes, which could possibly explain the outcome of my bake.  Below, I have outlined the respective quantities of the ingredients for the two recipes for comparison.

    Ashburton Cookery School

    • 500g Violette T45 flour
    • 15g fresh yeast
    • 50g white caster sugar
    • 250ml full fat milk
    • 1 egg
    • 5g salt
    • 250g butter (no added flour)

    Recipe used

    • 380g strong white bread flour
    • 30g fresh yeast
    • 37.5g sugar
    • 2tsp honey
    • 230ml cold milk
    • No egg
    • 10g salt
    • 300g butter combined with 40g plain flour (for laminating)

    In addition to the differences in the quantities of yeast and salt (double in recipe I used for a smaller quantity of flour), the most noticeable differences between the two recipes were: the type of flour used (Violette T45 versus strong white bread flour); the amount of flour (500g versus 380g)/ratio of flour to butter (2:1 versus 1.27:1) and the use of an egg in the Ashburton Cookery School recipe.  There was also quite a noticeable difference in the method.  Whereas the recipe I used, suggested kneading the dough for 10 minutes after bringing the ingredients together in a dough, the Ashburton recipe suggested to ‘work the dough gently but do not kneed roughly’.  The Ashburton recipe also suggested splashing a small amount of water in the bottom of the oven to help the croissants to develop a crust, whereas this was not suggested in the recipe I used.

    I know ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’ (so to speak), but there is also merit in the saying ‘better the devil you know’.  If only I had remembered the ‘devil I know’ or thought to refer to it, I would have questioned the recipe I used and maybe have done somethings different – although I would in no way say that I am an expert in making croissants ( I have only made them a handful of times), I do know that the type of flour used; ratio of ingredients and how you handle the dough (kneading or not kneading) does affect the end product.

    All in all week 2 of my challenge was not as successful as week 1, but then I have called my adventure a challenge with trials, tribulations and triumphs along the way.  Maybe in this case there were more trials and tribulations than triumphs.  I might give croissants another go before the year is out, just to prove I can make them properly.  But next time I may just use my trusted Ashburton Cookery School recipe.